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Exeter’s submissions to the Research Excellence Framework were made in 26 of the 34 Units of Assessments

University of Exeter’s growth in Research Power recognised in REF2021

The University of Exeter’s commitment to producing world-leading research, to spearhead the transformation to a greener, healthier and socially-just future for all, has been recognised by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021.

Exeter recorded significant growth in both the quality and quantity of research carried out across the whole university, according to the influential results - the first UK wide assessment of research since 2014, and which are released today.

The University recorded a 62 per cent growth in the amount of 4* research, identified as being truly world-leading, and saw the fastest growth for impact – the measure of how much its research changes the world – amongst Russell Group universities, recording a 72 per cent rise in the highest classification of 4*.

As a result, the University is ranked 18th in the UK for ‘Research Power’ – which is the cumulative measure of both the quality and quantity of the research conducted at the institution.

Exeter’s sustained strategic investment has also resulted in a meteoric rise in research assessed as part of REF2021, with the number of researchers increasing by 70% - from 736 to 1259 (full-time equivalent) and volume  of research doubling since 2008.

More than 99 per cent of research conducted at Exeter has been recognised as being of international quality, with 89 per cent designated as internationally excellent, and 46.9 per cent identified as being world leading; 19 of our subjects appear in the top 20 for world leading research power.

Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter said: “I am delighted that Exeter has made such truly outstanding advances in the quality and impact of our world-leading research, which is recognised in the REF2021 standings.  These results show Exeter is a true centre of excellence for world-leading research that has a positive and crucial impact on the world around us.  

“These results demonstrate the substantial progression and advances made in the quality, reputation and significance of our research globally, over the last decade. Our continued strategic investment in our academic community has resulted in a 70 per cent increase in the number of researchers being assessed for REF2021, and has led to a huge increase in the proportion of research assessed as being world-leading. Our rise in research power places us firmly in the top 20 universities across the UK. 

“These results are a testament to the hard-work, commitment and dedication of our staff and students. It is also clear that our world-leading work matters and has global impact in in the areas of sustainability, health and equality, our three core strategic focus areas. “ 

Exeter’s submissions to the Research Excellence Framework were made in 26 of the 34 Units of Assessments (UoA) - which map against the University’s disciplines across the sciences and humanities - and the quality of research was assessed using a 1*-4* rating system, in which 4* is defined as being ‘world-leading’ and 3* is ‘internationally excellent’ in terms of its originality, significance and rigour.

As significantly, the assessment of the economic and societal impact that Exeter’s research has on some of the world’s most pressing issues and concerns also saw a substantial rise, with 59.8% assessed as having 4* or ‘world leading’ impact in its reach and significance - a 72 per cent increase in quality since REF 2014.

In 19 of the 26 units in which Exeter submitted, 100% of our research was assessed as either world-leading or internationally excellent in its impact. For Sports Science, Area Studies and Theology & Religion, 100% of research was assessed as world-leading in its impact.

The quality of our research outputs and research environment also increased significantly.

Exeter now has two subjects ranked first nationally for world-leading research – Sports Science and Theology – while Area Studies (2nd) and Classics (4th) secured a place in the top five. A further six subjects were ranked in the top for world-leading research  - Earth Systems and Environmental Science, Geography, Archaeology, History, Business and Management, and Politics.

Professor Neil Gow, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact) for the University of Exeter said: “We are absolutely delighted with these outstanding results and clearly demonstrate that Exeter has retained its positive trajectory over a significant period of time, making a truly positive contribution to solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. 

“These results demonstrate not just the quality and volume of our research, but also the impact that it has in addressing major societal challenges regionally, nationally and internationally.  It also demonstrates our commitment to delivering real change, solutions and opportunities to ensure a greener, fairer and healthier future for communities around the world.” 

Date: 12 May 2022

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